Toronto International Film Festival 2011: A Dangerous Method, Keyhole, God Bless America, Sarah Palin—You Betcha!
It's around this time of the festival when everything goes to hell. Late Friday, word spread that the ubiquitous Michael Fassbender had canceled his plans to come to Toronto, which immediately prompted speculation—later confirmed—that he was winning a prize at the overlapping Venice Film Festival. Interviews were scotched, schedules were shuffled and tables at parties were rearranged. (I wasn't seated with Bryce Dallas Howard, nor do I have any idea why such a nice-seeming person would play yet another hateful character in the new film 50/50, but she officially achieves Jedi status in my mind by appearing to be cool while chatting with film journalists.)
Fassbender won the Venice award for Steve McQueen's Shame, but he could have easily taken the prize for his role as Carl Jung in A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg's film version of Christopher Hampton's play The Talking Cure. The movie explores the early days of psychoanalysis through the relationship between Jung and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), a Russian-Jewish patient who would go on to become a therapist and psychoanalytic theorist herself. Knightley's accent is so exaggerated that it works as an alienation effect, much as Ed Harris's stylized performance did in A History of Violence.
The film has been criticized for what, by Cronenberg standards, seems like its relative conventionality, but it's hard to think of another movie so intent on imagining this particular moment. The period-piece stiffness and artifice are entirely deliberate—A Dangerous Method out to be a crypto-comedy in which Jung and Freud (Viggo Mortensen) compete to rationalize the irrational. Cronenbergian shock effects cut through the air of propriety. All of the director's films deal with the split between the mind and the body; A Dangerous Method merely explores that realm from a more cerebral angle. It's also, in more subtle ways, Cronenberg's most Jewish movie, with a punch line that makes the preceding debates about repression seem deeply irrelevant—or perhaps relevant in entirely different ways.
Canada's other favorite filmmaking son, Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg), misfired with Keyhole, an admirably strange but fatally discombobulated brew of noir, Greek myth and Lynchian fantasia commissioned by Ohio's Wexner Center for the Arts. Maddin is generally funnier when working in anachronistic media; his new movie sometimes seems like a Troma parody of a heist-gone-wrong film, with Jason Patric as an unusually distracted ringleader.
Across town, the audience was more receptive to the world premiere of God Bless America, Bobcat Goldthwait's satire of idiocracy culture. The film follows a sad sack (Joel Murray, Freddy Rumsen on Mad Men) and a teenager (Tara Lynne Barr) who go on a killing spree; their targets include a Kardashian clone and an American Idol. The movie hits exactly one, aggressively un-p.c. note, and while its sick, take-no-prisoners approach makes for solid laughs for about an hour, the film doesn't have anywhere to go in its second half. "I think I may have made my Springtime for Hitler," Goldthwait told the audience after the screening—and indeed, God Bless America has elements that could make it either a flop or a hit.
Speaking of one-note: You won't find anything new in Sarah Palin—You Betcha!, in which the former Alaska governor's hometown gets punked by British documentarian Nick Broomfield. It's certainly amusing to see the residents of Wasilla baffled by the professional sleazeball filmmaker, and it's possible that his complete lack of seriousness made him less threatening to, say, Palin's parents. But there are no revelations here that will surprise anyone who reads Andrew Sullivan's blog, even if the film does manage to be less insufferable than the last Palin documentary.